By Amulya Ganguli
Even as the Congress managed to repair its broken house in Punjab, the BJP found itself in trouble in Karnataka. How the two parties will fare in the coming weeks will be a test of their resilience on the eve of assembly elections which will pose a challenge to both. Of the two, the BJP will be particularly concerned about its government’s fate in the southern state lest a setback there should have a demoralizing effect on its cadres in U.P., Goa, Gujarat and several other states which will go to the polls.
The Congress, on the other hand, will hope that its success in bringing together the two warring party men – chief minister Amarinder Singh and the maverick Navjot Singh Sidhu – will bear fruit at least till the assembly elections next year. Considering that the bad blood between the two had threatened to derail the government and damage the Congress’s poll prospects, the party must be pleased with the current truce.
Moreover, since the reconciliation is the handiwork of the Nehru-Gandhis, and particularly of Priyanka Gandhi, it is a feather in their caps. Those who believe that the party should discard the dynasty may now have second thoughts, for the ceasefire between Singh and Sidhu confirms that only the Nehru-Gandhis can hold the party together because of the faith which the party men repose in them.
The first family’s success in convincing a reluctant Singh to accept Sidhu as a partner – he has been made the party’s chief in Punjab – also underlines an important factor in the Congress’s inner working. It is the indication that the Nehru-Gandhis are looking for a generation change in the organization. It is obvious that the family expects the 79-year-old chief minister to step down after the elections in favour of the 57-year-old Sidhu.
It has apparently been a plan of Rahul and Priyanka for a fairly long time that a set of young leaders should replace the “golden oldies”. They tried this tack while backing the 45-year-old Ashok Tanwar in Haryana against the Congress’s grand old man in the state, the 73-year-old Bhupinder Hooda. But the Gandhi siblings could not have their way with the result that Tanwar walked out of the party.
The fate of Rajasthan’s 43-year-old Sachin Pilot who is sulking in the sidelines while the 70-year-old Ashok Gehlot rules the roost is another instance of the brother-and-sister duo failing to go against the party’s standard operating procedure of giving precedence to the elderly. Punjab marks the first occasion when Rahul and Priyanka have succeeded in doing what they wanted.
Time will show whether the same procedure will be followed in the other states. Will Pilot finally have his day in Rajasthan? Will Kumari Selja (58) in Haryana? Will D.K. Shivkumar (59) in Karnataka? But it has to be remembered that age was not Amarinder Singh’s only disadvantage. He also did not have the best of relations with Rahul, so much so that he nearly quit the Congress in 2015.
There is another aspect. It is possible that the Gandhi siblings have inherited the genes of Indira Gandhi who was wary of powerful regional leaders in case they posed a challenge to her leadership. Of all the Congress satraps, Amarinder comprehensively fits the description of a powerful leader. Is this why the brother-and-sister duo want to cut him down to size?
In the case of the Karnataka chief minister, B.S. Yediyurappa, both age – he is 78 – and the fact that he, too, is an influential regional leader may have been his undoing so far as the BJP is concerned. He also once left the party and spent time in jail on corruption charges. These are some of the reasons why the BJP wants him to go. But unlike Amarinder, who did not resist Sidhu’s entry, a tough rearguard action is being put up on Yediyurappa’s behalf by the members of his community, the Lingayats.
How the BJP will get around this obstacle is a matter of speculation. Will the party choose another Lingayat to replace Yediyurappa? That the BJP is not averse to the idea of a change of guard is evident from the choices that have been made in Uttarakhand where Trivendra Singh Rawat was replaced by Tirath Singh Rawat for three and a half months only to be replaced by Pushkar Singh Dhami.
But Yediyurappa is not a nonentity whose name can be picked out of a hat. As the show of strength by the Lingayat seers in Bengaluru shows, he has a substantial base. Even some Congress MLAs belonging to the community joined the holy men to protest against the chief minister’s exit. The BJP will be apprehensive, therefore, of the political fallout of his departure, especially of the shifting of the Lingayat vote bank to the Congress. (IPA Service)